Why is the Dolphins defense slipping?
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By Omar Kelly Sun Sentinel
9:24 a.m. EST, December 18, 2012
There has been slippage with the Miami Dolphins defense.
It is not outrageous, not glaring, especially considering the Dolphins contained Seattle, which is blowing out everyone lately. The defense got Tom Brady and the Patriots off their game, which is rare. And Miami didn't get embarrassed by San Francisco until Colin Kaepernick's 50-yard run.
But the defense has loosened up a bit on its tight grip from earlier this season when the Dolphins were the NFL's best team on third down, best at stuffing the run, and one of the best in the red zone.
Within the span of the past month Randy Starks has fallen from his position as a top five defensive tackle. PFF presently has him ranked No. 9. His performance has been hot and cold since the Oct. 28 game against the New York Jets, and he's got an overall negative run stopping grade (-2.7), which isn't like Starks. Starks is an impending free agent so maybe he's being slightly less physical to avoid injuries (it happens). Getting hurt at this point in the year would cost him million, and I'm not talking one or two. We're talking about $10 million. Sometimes players make business decisions....
Paul Soliai is rated the No. 31 defensive tackle, and when all defensive tackles are factored in Tony McDaniel checks in at No. 123 based on his 196 snaps this season. Both those defensive tackles can do better.
Cornerback Sean Smith has seen the biggest drop off. Back in September and October he was one of the NFL's top 20 cornerbacks according to PFF. Heading into Sunday's game against Buffalo Smith is ranked as the 76th best cornerback in the NFL. No cornerback has been targeted more this season (106) than Smith, who is good in press and mediocre in zone.
The Dolphins have been playing more zone the past few games and Smith is getting a lot of passes thrown at him. He's also typically defending the opposition's best receiver each week.
However, it should be noted the amount of passes being completed on Smith (54.7%) is impressive. Only 28 cornerbacks have a lower percentage. And opposing quarterbacks have a 85.7 quarterback rating when targeting the player Smith is defending. Only 49 cornerbacks have a lower rating. And film study indicates he's generally attacked when the Dolphins put him in zone, especially in the red zone
1. The Dolphins' run defense is getting soft. Anything higher than 3.7 yards per carry isn't acceptable for this unit, and the Dolphins are presently allowing 3.8 with eight rushing touchdowns (eight allowed all of last season).
2. Cornerback play needs to improve, and that likely means the Dolphins must upgrade the position next year. Getting Richard Marshall back will help, but not enough. The Dolphins will also have a tough decision on Smith, who is a free agent. If you're going to play a lot of zone it would be wise to get a zone cornerback. Smith isn't that player.
3. The safeties need to get more involved to become bigger factors on the game. Only way to get more sacks from the linebackers is to have Jones and Clemons more involved in coverage, and coming down a little might help these struggling cornerbacks and produce more interceptions.